How Ballet Academy East's Darla Hoover Can Spot a Future Ballerina

Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of BAE

You can take the dancer out of Balanchine, but you can't take the Balanchine out of the dancer—or at least, that's Darla Hoover's experience. As artistic director of Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division, following an 11-year career with New York City Ballet, she readily recognizes that aspects of her class—the speed, clarity, musicality and energy—are inarguably Balanchinian. But she was surprised to find she also takes after the late, great choreographer when it comes to classroom demeanor: "Just like Mr. Balanchine would say, I'll tell my students, 'Great! That was so much better.' They'll think, 'Oh, thank goodness,'" she says. "And then I'll turn around and say, 'More. Do it bigger.' That was always him—it was never enough." That constant quest for perfection will be on display this month, when the BAE students perform Balanchine's Donizetti Variations, a cheery but technically challenging 26-minute ballet, in their spring recital, May 19–21 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College in NYC.


How she chooses which ballet to restage for her students "I really assess the group that's in front of me each year. I want to get the right fit. Number one, how many strong girls and strong boys do I have? For instance, this year, choosing Donizetti Variations—I have more than one advanced boy who I would like to have an opportunity to learn a Balanchine ballet. And that's not always the case. Some years, it's just one strong boy. Or do I have someone who's a jumper? Each ballet has a different flavor, and I have to make sure that I have the ingredients in front of me."

Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of BAE

On knowing a student is destined for a professional career "I can pick it out every single time. Think of it as a pie with many pieces. One, obviously, is the body that they've been given: The proportions are right; the flexibility; there's a nice line in the legs and the feet. Then there's this tenacity that they all have. There's gotta be a hunger in them. And there's a certain energy they're just born with. They all want to be perfectionists. They all enjoy the process."

Her prep method as a dancer with NYCB "I wouldn't do mental preparation, because that made me freak out about it even more. I'm a huge New York Rangers fan, and that's what I would warm up to backstage. People knew they could always find out the score from me. If I think too long about anything, I'll just psych myself out. I don't prepare my classes, because it throws me off. I have to go start teaching and see what they need that day."

Training: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet; School of American Ballet

Performance: Dancer with New York City Ballet, 1980–91

Teaching: Artistic director of Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division, 1995–present; associate artistic director of CPYB; répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust

Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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